Emily Maynard spoke about her experience in an evangelical church that was adamantly opposed to the legalism of fundamentalism. Yet- her church was, nonetheless, fiercely legalistic. In her presentation at the Bold Boundaries gathering, she says:
“From my experience of growing up at this weird cross roads of evangelical culture and fundamentalism, I can now see that the two camps that pride themselves on being very different and not like the other, really believe a lot of the same things… the accents differ, but the primary language and ideas are the same.”
When it comes to gays in the church, conservatives are very up front about their disapproval of us. They strip away the dignity from our stories, refuse to let us speak and give our testimonies, claim that we are confused and disordered and can and should be cured. They have shown their cards outright and…
I kind of appreciate that.
Don’t get me wrong, the slurs flying off the conservative’s lips are a menace and not of God and must be called out because they crush and cut deep.
But lately, I’m beginning to wonder about the damage progressive evangelicals inflict when they propose the same ideas in gentle, caressing, weak language, as if their ideas are something new.
Especially amongst the bloggers.
Let me first say, I have no doubts about the sincerity of these writers. They’re attempting to provide an alternative way to dialogue apart from the conservative vitriolic message. They are envisioning the faces of their gay and lesbian friends and what they want to do- more than anything- is to tell them they are equally human, equally loved, forever friends no matter what. And that, that good important message, which I have dedicated an entire series to, sometimes turns a well-intentioned post into an unfortunate misfire.
Here’s what I mean.
The writer will draw upon the story of Jesus and the description of his disciples and friends. Scenes are painted. We see the woman at the well. The adulteress dragged through the dirt. The afternoon meal between God and Zaccheus. And through these characters, the point will be made that Jesus spent an awful lot of time with adulterers, tax collectors, thieves and cheats and scum, and simply loved them. It’s so simple. Just love LGBT people. Be Jesus.
The picture of the merciful Jesus is exquisite. I love that this is God. I keep those boundary breaking, tear jerking stories tucked inside my heart and whenever I think of Jesus, they flutter to my mind and I feel the Rabbi’s heartbeat.
Having said that, this framework also happens to be condescending, offensive, and, most of all, lazy. It is a distortion of the actual conversation occurring in the faith today.
The actual conversation is not how to better love LGBT people because they are sinners. It is about whether or not Christ-centered marriages between people of the same-sex are immoral. Sinful. Missing the mark. If you’re not talking about that, you’re having another conversation entirely.
The talk about Jesus being friends with sinners is nothing new. Conservatives have argued the exact same thing, but they also note that after Jesus stopped the stoning of the adulteress, he said, “go and sin no more.” Which is, as I see it, a more consistent and clear argument. This is what flops “Jesus friends” analogies and the “just love” convenient theology, because progressives omit the last line.
But the good news, unless you believe otherwise, is that we gay folks are not sinful because we are gay- so we need not be told to “go and sin no more.” As my friend, Nathan Kennedy, aptly put it, “I have many reasons to ask for mercy and grace, to identify with the woman caught in adultery and confess my sinfulness, but being gay isn’t one of them. We can’t go forward if we’re constantly talking about God’s love for sinners meaning gay people.” (tweet 1, 2)
By continuing to situate us next to the woman at the well, the adulteress on the ground, Zaccheus in the tree, simply because we are gay, you are oppressing us. You are maintaining the status quo. You are not moving into some middle ground conversation, you are rewording love the sinner, hate the sin, and when we boil down and disintegrate the highly wrought gestures, what remains is a lazy pseudo-progressive theology.
Don’t get me wrong- We are the marginalized. The oppressed. The pitched of the Church train. But what has to be grasped by progressive evangelicals is that the margins are not the cesspools of sin. That- right there, needs to be understood.
The margins are not tantamount to sin.
Christ planted his ministry in the margins because He is on the side of the oppressed, not because it was cesspool of sinners. The trenches have held both the virtuous and the vile and to say that Jesus hung with “sinners” is too simplistic. He hung out with the marginalized. The oppressed. Those pitched off the church train.
Look to the Bible and you will find a rich history of marginalized people who were not ostracized because they were sinful, but simply because they were different. Step into these stories and I promise you will see a redemptive and breathtaking circle growing wider and wider to make room for those that want to love Jesus, and that, to me, is one of the reasons I love the Bible. It is the story of God stepping in for the marginalized when man turns his back.
As for what stories?
Perhaps it’s most appropriate to begin with Phillip and the very first soul he, or any other disciple, evangelized:
The Holy Spirit came to Phillip, saying:
“At noon today I want you to walk over to that desolate road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza.”
He got up and went. He met an Ethiopian eunuch coming down the road. The eunuch had been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was returning to Ethiopia, where he was minister in charge of all the finances of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He was riding in a chariot and reading the prophet Isaiah.
29-30The Spirit told Philip, “Climb into the chariot.” Running up alongside, Philip heard the eunuch reading Isaiah and asked, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”
31-33He answered, “How can I without some help?” and invited Philip into the chariot with him. The passage he was reading was this:
As a sheep led to slaughter, and quiet as a lamb being sheared, He was silent, saying nothing. He was mocked and put down, never got a fair trial. But who now can count his kin since he’s been taken from the earth?
34-35The eunuch said, “Tell me, who is the prophet talking about: himself or some other?” Philip grabbed his chance. Using this passage as his text, he preached Jesus to him.
36-39As they continued down the road, they came to a stream of water. The eunuch said, “Here’s water. Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the chariot to stop. They both went down to the water, and Philip baptized him on the spot. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of God suddenly took Philip off, and that was the last the eunuch saw of him. But he didn’t mind. He had what he’d come for and went on down the road as happy as he could be.” –Acts 8:26-39 (The Message)
Brian Mclaren offers a reflection of this moment:
“Imagine what Philip might have said: “I need to contact the authorities in Jerusalem to get a policy statement on this issue. Maybe we should wait a few centuries until the church is more established. Baptizing you could cause real controversy in our fragile religious community. In the interests of not offending people back home, I’ll have to say no. Or at least not yet.”
But Philip doesn’t answer with words; he responds with immediate action. They stop the chariot, and Philip leads him into the water and baptizes him.
Neither race nor sexual identity was an obstacle for the apostles in welcoming a new brother into the community of faith. As early as Acts 8 in the story of Jesus and his apostles, the tough issues of race and sexual identity are being addressed head-on. But as we all know, as the years went on, both issues once again became obstacles. It’s only in my lifetime that we have truly begun to put racism behind us – although even there, we still have a long way to go. Now, it’s time for us to remove the second obstacle. Not in spite of the Bible, but because of it. We’ve lost a lot of ground since Acts 8. That’s why I am among those who dissent from the conventional approach and attitude, appealing back to Philip’s even more ancient church tradition.”
Another monumental shift in Christianity came with the inclusion of Cornelius, a faithful servant to God, a social justice leader for the poor, but an excluded Christian because he was a Gentile.
In her CNN belief post, Rachel Held Evans gives a brief summary:
“After receiving a vision from God, Cornelius sends for the apostle Peter, who agrees to meet with him, even though it was forbidden for a Jew to associate with a Gentile.
Peter, an observant Jew, had been wrestling with the idea of including Gentiles in the church. But when he encounters the sincere faith of Cornelius, he is moved to declare, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right!”
He tells the skeptical people who have gathered outside, “God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.”
Peter changed his mind, and the church would never be the same.”
These stories matter and, yet, they are hardly ever mentioned. If progressives are not talking about the expanding circle of inclusion than they are not telling the whole story. They’re just further perpetuating the same worldview that they claim to warring against.
Now, am I asking you to suddenly be affirming? No. What I am asking is that you be curious. That you stop being lazy. Stop dwelling by the woman at the well and consider that we might be Cornelius. You have to reclaim that Holy Curiosity. You have to be intentional. You have to break your own rules.
Here’s what the concerned, curious, and serious progressive evangelical does:
She studies, hard. She examines the totality Bible, different theology, scientific evidence- all of it. She talks to her gay friends, learns their stories, tries to work her way into their perspective and then prays, prays, prays. Prays over her own worldview and privilege and prejudice. Prays for an ear that pricks at divine revelation. Begs to God at every corner to never give up on her. To keep pushing her. To take her to a place that is not based on what gay Christians want or traditional Christians want, but what God wants. That is love.
A fantastic example of how this is done is Rachel Held Evans sexuality series. She has not done the old, “just gotta love” routine, no, she has been open about her doubts, amplified LGBT voices, and has been reluctant towards a definitive theology, leaving herself exposed in her own wrestling for answers. That is love.
If you, the writer, firmly believe that gay relationships are sinful, do not dance around it. Don’t toy with our emotions. Just say it as gracefully as you can, with the humility to say that this is how you understand scripture. And if you believe they are blessed, shout it from the rooftops. Say it boldly. Explain that this is your interpretation of scripture.
And finally, if you are unsure of it all, then say that.
I feel like this is the general consensus of all Christians today, but none of the bloggers are writing about it. None are honest about their doubts of the traditional teaching. And when you omit that part, you keep us in the margins. You are not moving toward the middle. You are not advancing the conversation.
And right now, we have too many bloggers that want to write about LGBT issues, instead of intentionally getting elbows deep in discovery. They want posts that show how loving and understanding they are, without trying to figure out whether the premise of their post is correct.
And today there are more resources then ever before on the conversation over same-sex relationships and I highly encourage you to check them out here.
If you’re a writer, speaker, debater over the dining room table and you want to talk about us?